Friday, September 19, 2014

Friends of the Cross, Part 6


Not to deliberately cause crosses, by one's own fault

42. 1) Do not deliberately contrive to bring crosses upon yourself. We must not do something wrong in order to bring about something good; nor must we, without a special inspiration of God, do things badly so as to draw down ridicule upon ourselves. Rather we ought to imitate our Lord, of whom it was said, "He did all things well," not indeed out of self-esteem or vanity, but to please God and win over our fellow- men. And if you fulfil your duties as well as you can, you will find no lack of opposition, criticism and ridicule, which will be sent by divine providence without your choosing or wanting it.

Be aware of one's neighbour's good

43. 2) If you happen to do something which is neither good nor bad in itself, and your neighbour takes scandal at it - although without reason - refrain from doing it, out of charity to him, so as to avoid the scandal of the weak. Such an heroic act of charity will be of greater worth in God's sight than the action you were doing or intending to do. However, if what you are doing is necessary or beneficial to your neighbour, and some hypocritical or evil-minded person takes scandal without reason, refer the matter to some prudent adviser to find out whether it is really necessary or advantageous to others. If he judges it is, then carry on without worrying about what people say, so long as they do not stop you. And you can say to them what our Lord said to some of his disciples when they told him that the scribes and Pharisees were scandalised at what he said and did: "Leave them alone. They are blind men leading the blind."

Admire the sublime virtue of the saints
without pretending to attain to it

44. 3) Although certain great and holy men have sought and asked for crosses, and even by their peculiar behaviour have brought sufferings, scorn and humiliations upon themselves, let us be content with admiring and praising the marvelous work of the Holy Spirit in their souls. Let us humble ourselves at the sight of such sublime virtue without attempting to reach such heights ourselves. Compared with those swift eagles and strong lions, we are timid and faint-hearted sheep.

Ask God for the wisdom of the cross

45. 4) You may, and should, pray for the wisdom of the cross, that knowledge of the truth which we experience within ourselves and which by the light of faith deepens our knowledge of the most hidden mysteries, including that of the cross. But this is obtained only by much labour, great humiliations and fervent prayer. If you stand in need of this strengthening spirit which enables us to carry the heaviest crosses courageously; of this gracious and consoling spirit, which enables us, in the higher part of the soul, to take delight in things that are bitter and repulsive; of this sound and upright spirit which seeks God alone; of this science of the cross which embraces all things; in short, of this inexhaustible treasure by which those who make good use of it win God's friendship - if you stand in need of such, pray for wisdom, ask for it continually and fervently without wavering or fear of not obtaining it, and it will be yours. Then you will clearly understand from your own experience how it is possible to desire, seek and find joy in the cross.

Humble oneself for one's faults, without worrying

46. 5) If you make a blunder which brings a cross upon you, whether it be inadvertently or even through your own fault, bow down under the mighty hand of God without delay, and as far as possible do not worry over it. You might say within yourself, "Lord, here is a sample of my handiwork." If there is anything wrong in what you have done, accept the humiliation as a punishment for it; if it was not sinful, accept it as a means of humbling your pride. Frequently, even very frequently, God allows his greatest servants, those far advanced in holiness, to fall into the most humiliating faults so as to humble them in their own eyes and in the eyes of others. He thus keeps them from thoughts of pride in which they might indulge because of the graces they have received, or the good they are doing, so that "no-one can boast in God's presence."

God humbles us to purify us

47. 6) You must realise that through the sin of Adam and through the sins we ourselves have committed, everything in us has become debased, not only our bodily senses, but also the powers of our soul. And so the moment our corrupt minds reflect with self-complacency on any of God's gifts within us, that gift, that action, that grace becomes tarnished and spoilt, and God no longer looks on it with favour. If the thoughts and reflections of the mind can so spoil man's best actions and God's greatest gifts, how much worse will be the evil effects of man's self-will, which are even more corrupt than those of the mind?

So we need not be surprised that God is pleased to hide his friends in the shelter of his presence, that they may not be defiled by the scrutiny of men or by their own self-awareness. And to keep them hidden, what does this jealous God not permit and even bring about! How often he humiliates them! How many faults he allows them to fall into! By what temptations he permits them to be attacked, as St. Paul was! In what uncertainty, darkness and perplexity he leaves them! Oh, how wonderful is God in his saints, and in the means he adopts to lead them to humility and holiness!

Avoid the trap of pride in one's crosses

48. 7) Do not be like those proud and self-conceited church-goers, imagining that your crosses are heavy, that they are proofs of your fidelity and marks of God's exceptional love for you. This temptation, arising from spiritual pride, is most deceptive, subtle and full of poison. You must believe (1) that your pride and sensitiveness make you magnify splinters into planks, scratches into wounds, molehills into mountains, a passing word meaning nothing into an outrageous insult or a cruel slight; (2) that the crosses God sends you are loving punishments for your sins rather than marks of God's special favour; (3) that whatever cross or humiliation he sends you is exceedingly light in comparison with the number and the greatness of your offences, for you should consider your sins in the light of God's holiness, who yourself; in the light of a God suffering death while overwhelmed with sorrow at the sight of your sins; in the light of an everlasting hell which you have deserved time and again; (4) that the patience with which you bear your sufferings is tinged more than you think with natural and human motives. Witness those little ways of looking after yourself, that unobtrusive seeking for sympathy, those confidences you make in such a natural way to your friends, and perhaps to your spiritual director, those specious excuses you are so ready with, those complaints, or rather criticisms of those who have done you an injury, expressed in such pleasant words and charitable manner, that keen satisfaction you feel on considering your troubles, that self- complacency of Lucifer which makes you imagine you are somebody, and so on. I should never finish if I were to describe here all the twists and turns of human nature, even in suffering.

Profit by little sufferings rather than great ones

49. 8) Take advantage of little sufferings, even more than of great ones. God considers not so much what we suffer as how we suffer. To suffer a great deal, but badly, is to suffer like the damned; to suffer much, even bravely, but for an evil cause, is to suffer as a disciple of the devil; to suffer little or much for God's sake is to suffer like a saint.

If it is true to say that we may have a preference for certain crosses, let it be particularly for small, obscure ones when they come to us at the same time as great and spectacular ones. To seek and ask for great and dazzling crosses, and even to choose and welcome them, may be the result of our natural pride; but to choose small and insignificant ones and bear them cheerfully can only come from a special grace and a great fidelity to God. So do what a shopkeeper does in regard to his business: turn everything to profit. Do not allow the tiniest piece of the true Cross to be lost, even though it be only an insect-sting or a pin-prick, a little eccentricity of your neighbour or some unintentional slight, the loss of some money, some little anxiety, a little bodily weariness, or a slight pain in your limbs. Turn everything to profit, as the grocer does in his shop, and you will soon become rich before God, just as the grocer becomes rich in money by adding penny to penny in his till. At the least annoyance say, "Thank you, Lord. Your will be done." Then store up in God's memory-bank, so to speak, the profitable cross you have just gained, and think no more about except to repeat your thanks.

Love crosses, not with an emotional love,
but with rational and supernatural love

50. 9) When we are told to love the cross, that does not refer to an emotional love, impossible to our human nature.

There are three kinds of love: emotional love, rational love, and the supernatural love of faith. In other words, the love that resides in the lower part of man, in his body; the love in the higher part, his reason; and the love in the highest part of man, in the summit of the soul, that is, the intelligence enlightened by faith.

51. God does not ask you to love the cross with the will of the flesh. Since the flesh is subject to sin and corruption, all that proceeds from it is perverted and, of itself, cannot be submissive to the will of God and his crucifying law. It was this human will our Lord referred to in the Garden of Olives when he cried out, "Father, let your will be done, not mine." If the lower part of Christ's human nature, although so holy, could not love the cross continuously, then with still greater reason will our tainted nature reject it. It is true that we may sometimes experience even a sensible joy in our sufferings, as many of the saints have done; but that joy does not come from the body, even though it is experienced in the body. It comes from the soul, which is so overwhelmed with the divine joy of the Holy Spirit that it overflows into the body. In that way, someone who is suffering greatly can say with the psalmist, "My heart and my flesh ring out their joy to God, the living God."

52. There is another love of the cross which I have called rational love and which is in the higher part of man, the mind. This love is entirely spiritual; it springs from the knowledge of how happy we can be in suffering for God, and so it can be experienced by the soul, to which it gives interior joy and strength. But although this rational and perceptible joy is good, in fact, excellent, it is not always necessary in order to suffer joyfully for God's sake.

53. And so there is a third kind of love, which is called by the masters of the spiritual life the love of the summit of the soul, and which is known to philosophers as the love of the intellect. In this, without any feeling of joy in the senses or pleasure in the mind, we love the cross we are carrying, by the light of pure faith, and take delight in it, even though the lower part of our nature may be in a state of conflict and disturbance, groaning and complaining, weeping and longing for relief. In this case, we can say with our Lord, "Father, let your will be done, not mine;" or with our Lady, "I am the slave of the Lord: let what you have said be done to me."

It is with one of these two higher loves that we should love and accept the cross.

Suffer all sorts of crosses, without exception and without choice

54. 10) My dear Friends of the Cross, make the resolution to suffer any kind of cross without excluding or choosing any: any poverty, injustice, loss, illness, humiliation, contradiction, slander, spiritual dryness, desolation, interior and exterior trials, saying always, "My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready." Be prepared, then, to be forsaken by men and angels, and seemingly by God himself; to be persecuted, envied, betrayed, slandered, discredited and abandoned by everyone; to suffer hunger, thirst, poverty, nakedness, exile, imprisonment, the gallows, and all kinds of torture, even though you have done nothing to deserve it.

Finally, imagine that you have been deprived of your possessions and your good name, and turned out of your home, like Job and St. Elizabeth of Hungary; that you are thrown into the mire, like St. Elizabeth, or dragged onto the dung heap, like Job, all covered with ulcers, without a bandage for your sores or a piece of bread to eat - something people would not refuse to a horse or a dog. Imagine that, in addition to all these dreadful misfortunes, God leaves you a prey to every assault of the devil, without imparting to your soul the least feeling of consolation.

You should firmly believe that this is the highest point of heavenly glory and of genuine happiness for the true and perfect Friend of the Cross.

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